Chapter 7

When their plane was finally approaching Vegas several hours later — with the little patchwork engine that Vale and Ezra had built following behind, piloted by a single hybrid — it was night. Thus, when they began to approach their home, it was all any of the LV natives could do not to roll their eyes simultaneously.

The famous Vegas Strip, for the first time in decades, was completely lit up. Simultaneously, they all knew: Klaus must have called ahead on the radio with instructions to turn everything on. Very, very occasionally, Klaus would turn on the main light of the Luxor: the powerful beam that rose from the tip of his palace’s pyramid. Vampires out in the darkness of The Waste would watch it at night and make up stories about what went on in the mysterious Royal Family’s home. Vale had always suspected Klaus turned it on when he felt he needed to remind the other vampires of his presence.

Going all out on their energy capabilities for this stunt said one of two things... Either Klaus was pulling out all the stops to impress Caroline or he’d been a bit threatened by the practically utopian success of her city and wanted to make Vegas look better than it actually was. Likely, it was a combination of the two. These possibilities were abundantly obvious to everyone in the plane except Ridley and Caroline.

Ridley had only ever heard stories about places like Miami or New Orleans or Vegas. Stories of the party cities of the Americas, in their heyday, had always fascinated her. Looking out the window onto the stunningly bright and sparkling land of neon that beckoned to them enchantingly, Vegas looked like everything that had ever been promised to Ridley times ten. And after all these years in the darkness of the caves, who knew the dead of night could be so very, gloriously, blindingly bright?

Caroline couldn’t help but be mesmerized as well. She’d had no special attachment to Vegas before the Inferno or the floods. She’d shared some fun times there with her ex-husband but the city had never held any intrinsic appeal… not like Chiang Mai had, long before they’d been forced underground.

But it had been so long since she’d been back to the mainland of her birth home that Caroline had forgotten that she had even missed it. And flying into this iconic image of what people used to consider one of America’s most famous cities, it was enough to almost bring tears to her eyes. A part of her couldn’t help but feel like something had clicked into place. She’d had so many friends and family in this land over her life…

Klaus was watching her tenderly from the window next to her. Yes, he had gotten on the radio ahead of their arrival to have them light up the Strip. There was more than just that awaiting them too. He knew Caroline said she was here to work but, he got the distinct feeling that all she’d been doing since moving to Chiang Mai was work. They’d get to the research later; what harm would one night of freedom do them? After all, he thought to himself while he gazed at her, I think I’ve more than earned the right to celebrate your return after waiting for you so patiently all these years…

Caroline couldn’t have heard his thoughts, of course, but she could see the way he was intensely staring at her in her peripheral vision and the heat of his ardor was enough to make her melt into the seat on the spot. Doing her best to compose herself and disguise her enthusiasm and excitement, Caroline whirled away from the window to face the other companions in the aircraft.

“I must admit, it’s startling to see that it looks exactly the same after all this time,” she said.

Vale and Ezra had to stifle laughs and even Rebekah looked a tad uncomfortable. Right, exactly the same.

“We don’t keep it on all the time,” Klaus admitted. “But tonight we are having a little celebration. I thought we should do it up properly.”

“A celebration?” Caroline asked with a suspiciously quirked eyebrow. After everything they’d been through today, Klaus wanted to take her to a party?

But, next to her, Caroline could sense Ridley’s growing excitement. She wasn’t about to rain on her parade just to put Klaus in his place. Not to mention… maybe a little booze and dancing wouldn’t be the worst way to unwind?

Hope could barely believe it. Rebekah and Kol often let it slip that her father had gone through his decadent phases over the centuries but, Hope had seen no trace of that side of him while growing up. Where would he even host a party? Certainly not at the Luxor. Better question: Who would he even invite?

The plane made a discernible tilt downwards. It seemed that they were about to land.

A limo was waiting for them at the tarmac. Hopping excitedly from it, once they’d exited the back of the jet, was none other than Kol Mikaelson. He looked exactly the same as he had when Caroline had last seen him in Mystic Falls back in the 21st century — the only difference was that his hair was bleach blonde and glowing phosphorescent in the night sky around them. But apparently even this change was new.

“Kol, what the bloody hell have you done to your hair?” Rebekah asked in a chastising tone that only slightly covered her grin.

“Obviously the second I was told we were having a party, I decided it would be a grand idea if I dolled myself up tonight,” Kol replied easily while his eyes alighted on Caroline without surprise. “Hello, Caroline Forbes.”

“Hello, Kol Mikaelson,” she replied, just as easily. In truth, when Hope had arrived, Caroline hadn’t a clue which Mikaelsons were still around. She’d always assumed that she would have heard if Klaus had been defeated but… Rebekah, Kol, Elijah? She was only confirming their existence now.

And then, behind her, Kol spotted Ridley. Suddenly the casual and teasing grin was wiped from his face. But, due to the fact that Kol had always had much more of a vested interest in Bonnie Bennett than Klaus ever had, he immediately recognized that, though very similar looking, they were not actually doppelgangers. Bonnie had had rich brown eyes that would frequently look green in certain lights; Ridley’s were a deep and encompassing sapphire so dark that her eyes almost looked black.

“Ah, so I see the Bennett witches are still alive and kicking!” Kol next exclaimed, “One of the few covens to have survived the disease after all these years. She must be very powerful indeed!”

Ridley didn’t know what to do with that statement. She’d been distracted by the light of the moon when Kol had first mentioned her. At first she was just surprised to think that he knew who she was but, that very quickly turned into embarrassment. The memory of Hope handing Ridley her own ass was still fresh in Ridley’s mind so, she did not feel very powerful at all currently.

“Not much of a coven these days, it would seem,” Rebekah told him lowly, not in a mean tone, just expressing the truth of the matter. “Ridley is the last Bennett left.”

“The last surviving Bennett…” Kol mused for a moment, punctuating the lingering thought with a disappointed click of his tongue. He then swooped forward and past Caroline to grasp Ridley’s hand and place a quick kiss to her knuckles while maintaining steady eye contact. “And what is the beautiful witch’s name?”

Ridley, who had unconsciously let out a sharp little intake of breath at having an Original vamp speed directly in front of her, completely without warning. She was excited to be in Vegas but she wasn’t too sure about this family… they were intimidating. Hope had witch powers beyond anything she’d ever seen. The same went for their vampire traits. She could only guess the wolf halves of Hope and Klaus were also much stronger than typical werewolves, rabid or not.

“Ridley,” she said. “Nice to meet you, Kol.”

She honestly hadn’t known that this was possible but, without saying another word, Kol gave her a wink that perfectly expressed the thought: You have no idea. The pleasure is mine. And made Ridley feel excited and vaguely uneasy all at once.

Hope made a motion to enter the limo waiting for them and get going while everyone was suitably distracted but her Uncle Kol had her playfully head-locked quicker than she could even get to the car. Hope may have been a Hybrid but her aunts and uncles were still over a thousand years older than her it often felt like she’d never gain enough experience to catch up to theirs.

“Ah, ah, ah little niece! While I do very much enjoy your penchant for trickery and escape — which you obviously inherited from me,” Kol began. “Even I had my doubts about your safety on an unannounced trip of this magnitude. Don’t worry us like that again. Although, I can’t say I’m not pleased to see everything you’ve brought home.”

He said that last part a bit lewdly and, though it was primarily directed at Ridley, Klaus couldn’t help but growl jealously as if he was referring to Caroline. At the sound, Caroline rolled her eyes. She had been just about to warn Kol to keep his paws off her best friend when the attention had been redirected to Hope. Caroline turned around to take in the vista of the Nevada desert around them.

As she turned from side to side, making out the dunes easily in this extremely bright night sky, Klaus came into her line of vision. Everyone was packing into the limo, now, but he paused when they caught each other’s eye. Caroline wasn’t sure what she was expecting from him but, what she got surprised her. He only offered her a small and genuine smile — one that radiated tenderness and contentedness — before holding out a hand to invite her into the car first.

When she took a seat beside Ridley in the limo — who was squealing excitedly over the whole setup as she’d never even been in a car when living in the caves — Caroline couldn’t help but catch Klaus’s eye again. This time it was on purpose. He was still staring at her the same way, like he was just happy to see her there and he wasn’t thinking or plotting anything beyond that in this moment. She was shocked at her emotional response; she was touched. Quickly upset with her own reaction, Caroline quickly redirected her attention to outside the window. Klaus looked content because Hope was home; it had nothing to do with herself.

But soon enough, her attention was genuinely redirected as they pulled out onto the strip.

At first, it had genuinely hurt their eyes, both Ridley and Caroline’s. The flood of neon and pulsating lights was magnificently shinier than anything Caroline had seen in a very long time. For Ridley, it was the most amazing thing she’d seen ever.

And because Ridley didn’t know any better, she didn’t sense how strange it was to see these famous Vegas streets abandoned. Passing the Bellagio, Caroline recognized the famous fountains but, no tourists were gathered round to see them. The grand entryway at the Ceasers Palace was twinkling as they approached but, there wasn’t a single rowdy gambler huddled outside its doors. The whole city was abandoned. It was like walking into a carnival after hours when all the rides were still lit up but no one was running the show.

Then, they began to approach the glass pyramid. It was the famous Luxor Hotel. It’s light was on tonight, shooting upwards to the heavens like a signal of hope. Or of warning, the jaded part of Caroline’s mind couldn’t help but think. Suddenly someone was hurtling themselves into the seat next to her, pointing a finger outside to the Luxor.

“There,” Hope said to Caroline and Ridley, “That’s where my family and I live.”

Caroline turned around to look at Klaus, quirking an eyebrow up at him. Really? she asked him, silently.

He only chuckled in response.

“You should remember, love, that I’ve only ever pursued the best for myself,” he said, his tone dark and laced with an unmistakable double meaning.

“Are we seriously going to a party at Mikaelson Palace?” Vale asked in faux wonder.

Klaus had to suppress an expression of disgust at even hearing the boy speak. Harder still was ignoring the satirical name he’d imposed onto their home. But, for Hope’s sake, all he replied with was “God lord, of course not. I’m not inviting the entirety of your slum into my home! I’ve had them set up XS.”

Hope turned around to exchange excited glances with Ezra. Caroline had no idea what XS was. She’d never visited it when last in the city before the floods. But, even seeing Rebekah grinning ear to ear at that announcement, she was pretty sure it was going to be impressive…

When they entered the club, Caroline immediately felt under dressed. Vega may have been abandoned on the streets but Klaus had still managed to attract a crowd to one of his legendary events. Caroline vaguely remembered how, after attending that first ball at his house when he’d given her that blue gown, she’d been suitably impressed with the Mikaelson’s event-hosting skills and that wasn’t an opinion Caroline held lightly. No one had ever been able to outdo one of her parties but, over two-centuries later, she honestly couldn’t even remember the last time she’d thrown a party.

Goes to show, too, she thought to herself dryly. Even if she and Ridley had been afforded the time to pack, she hadn’t owned anything worthy of a night of dancing since she’d moved underground.

The huge club with gauzy draping and sexy low lighting, was blasting jazz at an obscene volume and was flooded with well over a hundred vampires. They’d all clearly dragged out their best for this and most of the women were dancing in high heels and dangerously short dresses.

“Come on,” Klaus said, over the music, “Let’s have a drink.”

As their presence was noted, the crowds seemed to flutter even further to life in excitement at seeing Klaus. That’s him! was the most prominent whisper and Caroline gathered that he was not much in the public eye these days. Soon enough, though, eyes began to alight on her and Ridley and both of them could feel the weight of everyone’s questions. Who the hell were these people standing alongside none other than Klaus-freaking-Mikaelson like old friends?

Klaus began leading them across the dance floor to a flight of stairs where they were brought to a VIP balcony and found Elijah and a blonde Caroline could only assume was the famous Freya waiting for them.

Freya, never having met Caroline before, honestly could have cared less about her arrival though she knew it was going to cause a lot of drama in the days to come. For now, she just rose from her seat to pull Hope into a borderline angry hug.

“Get over here,” she demanded harshly, pressing her niece into her fiercely. “Don’t ever do that to us again!”

Elijah, though, would plan to scold Hope at home, in private, as was polite. It would also ensure that he could have a truly serious discussion with her and he would not be letting her off the hook easily. While Freya reconnected with Hope, Elijah stepped forward to greet Caroline with a warm smile. He shook her hand in both of his own, like greeting an old friend.

“Miss Forbes, we are so very pleased that you will be able to visit us for awhile,” Elijah said. “You must tell us how you have been after all these years.”

Caroline bit her tongue resisting the urge to correct her name to Ms. Forbes. Once you were divorced, Miss just didn’t have the same sincerity to it.

“Thank you Elijah,” she replied, beginning her next thought pragmatically as possible, “I must admit it was something of a shotgun decision to come here…” she turned to look at Ridley who was gazing over the balcony to the dance-floor and indoor pool with longing eyes. Hope had thrust a glass of champagne into her new friend’s hand and they were clearly discussing how to make their escape to join the party. “But Ridley has never been out of Chiang Mai and ultimately I wanted her to have a new experience. Six months abroad will be good for her,” Caroline finished.

Ridley shot her a winning smile before acknowledging the new Mikaelson’s before her.

“I’m Ridley Bennett,” she said, feeling a bit more confident, finally. Enough so to introduce herself first. She held out her hand to shake and Freya took it without hesitation, immediately seizing the opportunity to read her. Ridley looked a bit startled at the sensation, eyes widening a bit as she began to understand the power of the new witch in front of her, an immortal witch, no less. Freya was smirking back at her but, beneath the smirk, Caroline could sense she was impressed. Caroline’s heart couldn’t help but feel a jump of pride.

Since when have you cared about impressing Klaus’s family?

“I’m Freya,” she replied.

“Elijah,” he said next. “Pleased to have you here Miss Bennett. I hope you’ll enjoy yourself. Please, Hope, get our guest down to the dance-floor it’s clear you’re both dying to go.”

The two girls squealed and ran downstairs where Vale and Ezra had been left behind to wait for them, apparently not close enough to the family to warrant an invitation to their private balcony overlooking the party like royalty.

Hope was genuinely shocked that she was being let off the hook enough to go to the party. She suspected it had something to do with the fact that Klaus could keep an eye on her while she was here.

Caroline craned her neck to follow Ridley with her eyes, watching her like a hawk. Despite being roommates and best friends for the past several years, here in this new city Caroline felt like she was raising Ridley as a child all over again. Her relationships with the Bennett daughters had always been strange and always followed the same pattern. While the girls were children, they were like mother and daughter. Ridley and her mother and her grandmother and the rest had all actually called her Mama. But around the time they became teenagers and started controlling their magic there was a discernible shift in their relationship and suddenly Caroline morphed from a mother figure to best friend or sister. It must have had something to do with the fact that she’d always look 17.

Turning back to the rest of them, it was clear the Mikaelsons were waiting for her to sit down and tell her story. And upon realizing this, Caroline promptly began to feel a little flustered. She hadn’t expected to do this all by herself.

“I’m sorry,” she began, making up an excuse, “But this is Ridley’s first time out of the city and not only am I a little overly protective, I want to see her experience this for the first time. We don’t have parties like this back at Chiang Mai.” Well, it was an excuse but it wasn’t untrue.

Klaus acknowledged her first, “Of course,” he said without hesitation. “Go. You know where to find us.”

She offered him a grateful smile but his disappointment was clear.

That wasn’t enough to stop her from running back down to Ridley, though.

“How could you tell me before now that you were almost eaten on The Black Lake?!” Ridley demanded a little over an hour later. At this point they were both about three shots in already; Klaus had access to a lot more and a lot nicer alcohol than they’d stocked up on in Chiang Mai. They’d been flitting between dancing and lounging at the bar, stopping to get to know people along the way but, just now Hope had found them and dragged them to a lounge area of the club where the her friends were waiting.

Ezra had been preparing to finally fill in Vale and Hope on the details of what had happened out on the lake but Hope had decided to seize the opportunity to get to Caroline a little better. After all, she and her father had gone out on the same boat on that lake. Surely Caroline’s side of the story would have some interesting and different insights than Ezra’s?

Caroline had been preparing to ask why she was needed when Ezra was available to relive the tale but, before the words would escape her, she realized how incredibly rude that would be. Hope hadn’t been anything but friendly to her since they’d met. Klaus’s daughter already struck her as having her family’s best traits: Kol’s easy going and joking attitude, Rebekah’s poise and confidence, the magical capabilities of her now famous Aunt Freya, Elijah’s observancy and thoughtfulness… Klaus’s strength and, somewhere beneath her youthful enthusiasm, his darkness too. Well, then again, they were all a little darker underneath these days.

“Sure,” she replied, “Why not? It would do us some good to sit for awhile. We’ve been dancing nonstop.”

“Glad you’re having fun,” Hope said with a smile. “But Ezra was just about to launch into the part of the story where a lake monster almost ate you, and it just seemed like you should be here to tell the story too.”

Caroline smiled, half genuinely warming to the girl but also still half suspicious. She didn’t know what exactly Klaus’s daughter was up to but she wasn’t striking her as entirely genuine. However, though she was being suspicious, Caroline also didn’t sense any malicious intent. No, the girl seem genuinely excited to meet her, for good reasons.

That was when Ridley had launched into her, “We were on that plane for over five hours and you never thought about telling me then?” she demanded.

Caroline grimaced, “Look, Ridley, I’m sorry but I was in the middle of leaving the city I’ve been building, and the only home I’ve known, for the last 60 years… I had a few things to get figured out!”

Ridley looked sufficiently chastised at that. And Caroline began the story without further interruption.

She was just getting to the part where they felt something press up against the rubber bottom of their dinghy when a new voice joined the conversation.

“Then a look of complete horror overcame her face and we all simultaneously felt our hearts drop at the same time,” Klaus continued from behind her, placing two hands on the back of her chair. “And she tells us: There’s something under the boat.”

Ridley eyes went wide with a sickened sort of look and Klaus plopped himself onto a chair next to her and across from Caroline without invitation.

“Sorry to interrupt, love,” Klaus said, “But I do believe I’ve earned the right to tell this tale as well.”

Elijah and Kol had accompanied him downstairs, more to size up the awed looks from the swarm of dancing vampires around them than anything else. Everyone had been confused about this party tonight, even more so now that two new people had shown up, one of them a mortal witch. Now, seeing the Mikaelsons out of their private balcony and on the main floor with the rest of them, whispers were being exchanged fervently.

Klaus ignore it and began to continue the story. Kol was listening in rapt attention within moments. He was the perfect audience member, making loud and overblown reactions to almost every twist in the story. It was making Caroline, Ridley, and Hope laugh so, Klaus didn’t even mind the interruptions. Elijah was listening in in interest as well. Though the adventure was undeniable, he himself was more interested in learning about their problems with the wolves and what kind of life inhabited to underground territory.

Her story stolen, Klaus turned out to have a sort of artistic flair for storytelling and he was enthralling to watch. Kol kept them laughing so often, too, that Caroline could never worry herself about focusing on Klaus too long.

A waitress arrived from nowhere, refilling all their drinks and depositing a bottle of champagne as the story began to come to a close. Klaus had just finished explaining their return from the lake. They all knew what came next. Caroline’s neck was snapped and Klaus went in search of Ridley.

Kol could sense the impending awkwardness in the upcoming lapse of conversation so, as usual, he steamrolled through it. Elijah rolled his eyes at Kol’s behavior, too familiar with his brother’s behavior not to realize what he was doing. Sometimes it seemed as if no one but himself in this family understood the value of using your words sparingly. They held more power when you did.

“Well, let’s get into the really good stuff!” he announced. “What’s everyone been up to the pat two hundred years? Ridley? What happened to your family? Did dear old grandma Bonnie ever get married?”

Elijah audibly scoffed at his brother’s brazenness and even Klaus looked annoyed.

“Kol…” he growled out in a low warning.

Ridley just looked confused. Why would he care about something that specific? Out of all the questions he could have about the Bennett line over the centuries, he wanted to know if Caroline’s old friend had been married? Suddenly it all clicked into place. Kol Mikaelson had a thing for good old grandma Bonnie. Knowing this made him a hell of a lot less intimidating.

“Bennett witches have a tendency not to marry,” Ridley said. “Bonnie apparently started something of a fad… or a curse.”

“Or impressive legacy,” Caroline corrected. “No one needs a man.”

Klaus chuckled and Caroline ignored it.

“Says divorce’s greatest proponent,” Ridley commented dryly. Caroline threw her a swift glare and Ridley’s eyes just taunted her in return. Oh she knew what she was doing. Had she and Hope had some kind of talk?

Divorced? Hope couldn’t help but wonder. She exchanged a look with Vale. No one had mentioned that Caroline used to be married.

“Hey, I enjoyed being married,” Caroline defended. “I just didn’t need it! My ex and I get along great!” Suddenly, she seemed to startle and remember who she was speaking in front of. She glanced anxiously over to Hope and Vale with a laugh before awkwardly looking down into her drink so she wouldn’t have to make eye contact with Klaus. “Sorry about that! Too much information…”

“No! Not at all,” Hope said, wanting to get whatever information she could. “I’m a big over-sharer myself.”

Next to them, Klaus had grown anxiously still. He was rigid, his every muscle taut as he listened to this turn in the conversation like a tightly strung bow waiting for release.
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